In this guide, we will be covering everything that you need to know and might ever possibly want to know about wireless routers.

This is a practical guide, however, it is still rather technical in parts.

Figuring out all there is to know about routers is very worthwhile for anyone that happens to use the internet. If you work, shop or browse regularly online this guide can help you understand how to get a better experience on the internet no matter what device you’re using.

What Is A Wireless Router?

A Wireless Router is a type of router which allows you to join two or more networks together.

The most common use of network connection is connecting to the Internet (a network).

Other common uses include connecting to a Private Computer Network or Local Area Network. [1]

The primary difference between a wireless router vs a router is that the wireless router is free of cables or “wires”.

Today most people refer to wireless routers as routers…

This isn’t correct as a normal router requires a wired connection.

Benefits Of Wireless Routers

The main advantages of using wireless routers include;

  • Unique IP Address For Every Device [2]
  • Wi-Fi Access For Wireless Devices
  • Access To The Internet Anywhere Within Signal Range

Sip or Gulp: Types of Wireless Routers


There are two types of wireless routers which are referred to as Sip and Gulp.

Sipper Routers

A router is called a sipper when it provides the best performance over a small-medium range.

If you have a small apartment or smaller home a sip router is ideal.

Gulper Routers

A gulper provides a lot more throughput and a stronger signal.

These are ideal for long-range needs. So if you have a larger home this is exactly what you’ll be needing.

How Does A Wireless Router Work?

A wireless router works via connecting itself to a phone line or splitter in your phone line which is connected to your nearest internet hub. This hub is then fitted with certain technology that dictates what kind of speeds you’re able to receive.

Once connected it will start receiving IP packets [3] from your ISPs Network.

Each routing device has certain components which allow them to connect networks together. A wireless router allows multiple concurrent connections via wi-fi as opposed to physical or wired routers which have two or more NICs (Network Cards) which define how many connections are available.

Wi-fi allows you to connect to your router via frequencies or frequency bands. Sometimes called wireless bands.

Your wireless router will connect to these bands and transmit your data through the frequency you’ve connected to.

Dual-band and tri-band wireless routers operate with the 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz bands either concurrently or based on the needs of the connected device.

What Is Wi-Fi?

Definition: A facility which allows one or more devices to connect to the internet & communicate with each other in a wireless network, within a specific area.

Many people believe Wi-Fi has a meaning or that it is an acronym for “wireless fidelity”, which is an urban myth. [4]

Actually, it is a trademarked term used to describe the method of how devices interact with a network in order to communicate with each other / connect to the internet.

Types Of Wireless Bands:

Today we use two wireless band frequencies;

  • – 2.4Ghz
  • – 5.0Ghz

types of wireless bands

The best wireless routers will typically offer dual-band connectivity to allow your device to specify which band is best suited for it. Each band is used to connect various devices through. The most recent standard offers dual 5Ghz connections, and a single 2.4. These are called tri-band routers.

Tri-Band routers allow you to connect more devices to individual bands which increases the bandwidth or measurable speed of each device’s connection.

Single-Band, Dual-Band, and Tri-Band Wi-Fi Routers. What’s the Difference?

One thing that these three types of bands have in common is they are only able to use the 2.4Ghz or 5.0Ghz frequency, or both.

Single-Band –

The single-band is limited to only a single frequency band.

These routers aren’t as popular today, but most often carry compatibility for only the 2.4 frequency.

Dual-Band –

The dual-band allows you to use either the 2.4 or 5Ghz band frequency.

When introduced the dual-band was revolutionary for routers and to this day it’s still the most common kind of router.

Not only does allowing both frequencies improve speeds, but operating with two bands also means double the bandwidth.

Tri-Band –

Tri-Band is still relatively new, typically supporting a single 2.4Ghz band and x2 5Ghz frequency bands.

The main pro of these kinds of routers is that if all else is equal you’ll be able to make use of 3x the bandwidth as you would when compared with a single-band router.

Using the 2.4 and 5Ghz Bands

Many people ask if you can use 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz at the same time.

The short answer is yes because your router is allowing both of those bands to be in use. Or all three in the cases where you have a tri-band based router.

The catch is that any single device can only be connected to a single frequency band at a single time.

Not all devices support 5Ghz so many will default to 2.4Ghz.

However, having the extra 5Ghz band means your newer devices can make use of it without bandwidth becoming limited due to older devices.

What Is The Difference Between Wireless 2.4G and 5G?

2.4ghz vs 5ghz band

The major difference between these two wireless bands is not actually the speed, but the interference and number of non-overlapping channels.

2.4Ghz has a much wider band frequency meaning it picks up more interference which can weaken the signal and reduce the amount of data that can be sent in a timely manner. With 5.0GHz you have a much smaller band frequency which is more accurate.

5Ghz is better in short range areas as you might expect, while 2.4 works better in larger houses or homes with significantly thicker walls.

One reason the 5Ghz is so desirable is with all factors taken into consideration it can provide significantly more throughput which is why it is faster.

These are the main differences between the two that you should know about, but for further reading please see this linksys article.

What About Range?

what is the range of 2.4ghz, 5.0ghz wi fi signal?

Source: LinkSys

The range of 2.4Ghz has been known to be able to span many miles in the right circumstances. While the signal of 5.0 can in the right circumstances extend well beyond a poorly implemented 2.4.

Range depends on several external factors such as physical obstructions, transmission output, antenna/aerial effectiveness and much more.

Most figures on the web about range are merely estimates or that persons own experience based on their own unique situation.

So it’s almost impossible to give an accurate figure for the precise range you’ll be able to operate your Wi-Fi within on either frequency.

What you can do is make sure that whatever router you purchase is a quality product and this will in most situations allow you to increase the range vs a cheaper product with a less effective design.

Wireless Networking Standards

Some of you might be wondering why every so often your Internet Provider will want to send you (or sell you) a new router.

This is because of the Wireless Networking Standards.

Older routers may be out of date. These Wireless Standards deal with the technology that is behind your Wi-Fi. Newer tech allows faster and better connections.

If you’ve been very unlucky to own an extremely old router and a new device your network connection throughput will be throttled by the speed of the slower device or the router.

Not all devices provide backward compatibility, and the same goes for routers. However, most good routers and devices do offer backward compatibility.

Improving network standards is important, but the odds of all your devices being able to make use of the newest standard is statistically unlikely.

Any network is only as strong as the weakest link. However, the latest wifi technologies defined by these standards will likely give you massive improvements for some of your devices, as well as future-proofing your home.

Current Wi-Fi Technologies:

Today there are three commonly used wi-fi technologies in the United States;

  • – 802.11ac
  • – 802.11n
  • – 802.11g

wi-fi speed technologies comparison

802.11ac speed compared

802.11ac is a huge improvement over previous standards. Offering speeds 2.5x faster than 802.11n.

802.11ac

IEEE 802.11ac is the current standard released in 2013.

Offering backward compatibility with 802.11b/g/n it makes upgrading seamless.

It was the first standard to allow wireless connections to truly rival that of wired connections. It boasts an impressive signal range compared to its predecessors.

Two of the big changes with 802.11ac happen to be very significant…

First of all 2.4Ghz support was removed meaning both frequency bands operate on 5Ghz which offers significantly higher speeds.

The second change was the support of MU-MIMO or “Multi-User MIMO” [5]. This allows more connections to your network without losing speed of data transfer. With IEEE 802.11n we saw a single MIMO which means you would often see two aerials or antennas. With MU-MIMO you will often see 4.

Not all 802.11ac routers offer Multi-User MIMO so check to make sure if you’re looking to buy one for this reason.

When you compare the 802.11ac vs 802.11n or 802.11g, the 802.11ac wins in every single category.

802.11ac compared to previous standard 802.11n

Source: TechRepublic

802.11n

IEEE 802.11n is still a popular choice and far more people are using it than you’d think as it was only released in 2009.

This standard introduced the wide-spread adoption of aerials on routers in order to increase the overall bandwidth they could handle across the dual-band setup.

While this tech, known as Wi-Fi 4, is still fine in certain countries such as the United Kingdom where the internet download speeds rarely exceed 80Mbps it is extremely slow for most countries today which is why it was followed shortly after by the 802.11ac.

802.11g

There are still people out there who are using the IEEE 802.11g.

Most of the time this happens due to how long router technology can actually last.

If something isn’t broken most people don’t tend to go out and replace it.

802.11g was the last standard to be built on SU-MIMO or Single User MIMO. If you’re still using an 802.11g it’s probably a significant reason why you can’t get faster internet speeds especially if you have a lot of devices in your home.

These single-user routers would split your internet speed for every device in your house. Each device waiting until previous devices requests had sent and received packets. If your internet is significantly slower between 6-9PM when everyone else is at home there’s a good chance you may have an 802.11g.

We would estimate that thankfully within 2 years this standard will be fully-deprecated based on the upcoming launch of 802.11ax in 2019.

Coming Soon – 802.11ax

Despite the fact that it’s only been a few years since 802.11ac was released it didn’t take long for a new standard to be proposed.

802.11ax is going to be faster than anything we’ve seen before and this is largely due to the increasing demands of mobile. 802.11ac may be fast but its high speeds don’t convert so well to mobile devices. Maxing out at around 400Mbps.

802.11ax is currently due for a 2019 release and offers numerous advantages over the 802.11ac.

Buying The Best Wireless Router

Let’s face it, routers are quite often overlooked as part of a good tech setup.

However, maybe you’ve read this article and realized that you could actually improve your internet without having to spend more with your internet service provider. Instead, you could just upgrade your router to something decent.

I totally get it. I wrote this guide out of frustration with the lack of information out there that had me using a terrible router for years.

If you want to get a good wireless router in 2018 it’s going to be pretty obvious to you from reading this article that the best option is 802.11ac based routers.

I’m sure that you’re also thinking about the fact that at some point in 2019 that a new standard will be released… This can put you off upgrading because it won’t be long until you’re using old tech again.

There is an alternative though.

What you could do instead is read our guide on the best budget wireless routers

Reliability

– Whether you’re buying an expensive router or a budget one you need to make sure that it’s going to be reliable.

This means looking at reviews and of course the brands themselves. In our budget article (linked above) we were still able to find great options by trusted, quality brands such as Netgear and ASUS.

Other good brands are out there such as Belkin so just do your research or go for something trusted.

Speed

– If you go with an 802.11ac which there’s no reason not to due to the budget options available you’ll be set to get incredible speeds. Some cheaper models can struggle with this, so make sure that if you’re paying a lower price it’s because you’re sacrificing features not quality.

Regardless of the advertised speeds on your router, one thing you do need to know is that when your router is communicating with another device; the maximum speed you will get is the speed supported by the slowest device. So an older device will only run at its max speed, not the max speed of the router.

Price

– While prices of routers can vary massively it’s safe to say that nobody wants to spend a fortune on something that will be outdated next year. It’s a good time to look for something that’s reasonably priced as a lot of the higher priced models aren’t going to be a huge improvement on the cheaper alternatives.

MU-MIMO

– If you’re set on improving your browsing, gaming and streaming speeds today you’re going to want to look for an 11ac that offers MU-MIMO.

One article that’s worth checking out mentioned that when you look for routers the more antennas the better, which I would say is a good basic rule of thumb.

Signal Strength

– If you have a large house just check that buying a new router that’s based on 5Ghz isn’t going to cause signal issues. One way around this is to get a good signal booster which can extend the range of your signal.

Here’s my final tip for buying a wireless router…

Ultimately what you want is something that can offer you better speeds than whatever you’re using right now which is going to be the .11n or .11g’s if you don’t already have 802.11ac.

If you have a standard router sent from your internet service provider, odds are you do need to upgrade to get the best speeds.

Conclusion

If you love tech you might have missed just how much there is to the routers we use.

Hopefully our wireless routers guide has helped you learn a thing or two!

References:
1. Wireless router – Wikipedia
2. Benefits of wireless routers
3. How Do Routers Work? | Think Like A Computer
4. Wi-Fi Definition is Not Wireless Fidelity | Webopedia Reference
5. What to expect from 11ac’s next big deal: multiuser MIMO | Network World